LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Freshman Austin Cousino collected a team-best three hits and Zac Zellers launched his fifth homer of the year to lead No. 2 Kentucky to a series-clinching 7-6 win in the rubber match over No. 1 LSU, in front of 3,086 fans on an overcast Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (35-6, 13-5 Southeastern Conference) won its sixth consecutive conference weekend to open the league slate. The Wildcats lead the SEC through six weekends, own the nation’s best record and have opened up the 2012 season off with the best start in the over 100-year history of the program.
UK’s series win over top-ranked LSU was the first series win over a No. 1 ranked team in the modern history of the program. UK’s 35 wins to open the year in its first 41 games is tied for the sixth-most in UK single-season history. During the weekend, UK welcomed a school-record 9,496 over three games, eclipsing the previous record of 8,238 fans during a three-game weekend series with Florida in 2008.
Kentucky improves to 12-3 in one-run games in 2012 with the win, with the Wildcats also boasting a 1-0 mark in two-run games. UK now sports a 10-5 record against top-25 foes in 2012, with only one loss on the year coming to a team not ranked in the top 20.
The Wildcats edged LSU in the colossal matchup that served as the nation’s premier series of the weekend, with the two teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in one poll and sitting in a two-way tie atop the SEC standings. After LSU won the opening game 5-4 – UK’s fourth series-opening loss in its last five – the Wildcats responded with a resounding 8-1 win to even the series on Saturday. After LSU opened the scoring with a run in the second, UK took the lead with a three-run inning in the third. LSU evened the game with two runs in the fourth before UK regained the lead with a run in the bottom of the frame. LSU took a lead with two runs in the sixth to chase starter Corey Littrell, before UK pounded out four doubles in a three-run sixth inning for the game-winning rally, holding on for a 7-6 win.
UK had its third consecutive double-digit hitting performance on the weekend, totaling 11 hits against a LSU team that entered the series ranked second in the league with a 2.96 ERA, riding a blistering eight-game winning streak before UK’s wins in the second and third games of the set. The Wildcats were led by a three-hit game by Cousino, who launched his SEC-leading 17th double of the year and stole a pair of bases. Zellers hit his fifth homer of 2012, with UK getting hits from eight of its nine starters. A.J. Reed totaled a two-RBI double, with UK also getting hits from Thomas McCarthy, Luke Maile, Cameron Flynn, J.T. Riddle and Matt Reida.
Littrell was denied his fifth consecutive rubber-match win, as he took a no-decision after exiting in the sixth. The Louisville, Ky., native worked 5.2 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, walking two and striking out four. UK used standout right-hander Tim Peterson to set up the save, with 1.1 shutout innings, before senior Alex Phillips hurled a six-out save, his fourth of the year. Overall, the UK bullpen has worked 22.2 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
LSU (32-9, 12-6 SEC) starter Aaron Nola worked five innings, allowing seven hits and four runs, striking out seven without allowing a walk. Joey Bourgeois (1-2) suffered the loss with two runs allowed and getting one out. Chris Cotton allowed two hits and one run, before LSU got solid relief outings from Nick Rumbelow and Kurt McCune.
UK will return to action with a midweek game at No. 22 Louisville, slated for Tuesday at Jim Patterson Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Network, with Neil Price calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
After a 1-2-3 inning to start the game for Littrell, LSU got on the board in the top of the second with a lead-off home run from Raph Rhymes. Austin Nola walked for the Tigers, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third with two outs on a ground ball to the right side. Austin attempted to swipe home after a pitch in the dirt but Maile recovered and tagged Austin out at the plate. LSU left the top half of the inning up 1-0.
Kentucky battled back, sparked by a two-out rally in the bottom of the third. Cousino reached base first for the Wildcats with a two-out single through the right side. McCarthy doubled down the leftfield line to leave runners on second and third with two outs. Reed stepped up for the Wildcats, drilling a two-RBI double to left center, his first hit of the series. Maile kept the rally going with a single up the middle, scoring Reed and increasing the Wildcats’ lead to 3-1.
With a leadoff single from Hanover, LSU responded in the top of the fourth. Katz singled through the left side before the baserunners would advance to second and third on a passed ball. Rhymes knocked in his second RBI of the game with a single up the middle that would score Hanover. With runners on first and third, Katz scored on a 6-4-3 double play, tying the ball game at three through three and a half.
Zellers responded for Kentucky, drilling the first pitch of the bottom half of the fourth over the leftfield fence. The solo shot gave Kentucky a 4-3 lead through four innings.
Hanover led off LSU in the top of the sixth with single before being gunned at second by Maile on an attempted steal of second. Katz got the Tigers going again with a single to left field. Katz advanced to second on a wild pitch before scoring on a double down the leftfield line from Rhymes. With two outs, Austin singled up the middle, scoring Rhymes and recapturing the lead for LSU at 5-4.
Zellers led off the bottom of the sixth with a double down the rightfield line. Riddle matched Zellers with a double to right center, scoring Zellers. With two outs and the lefty specialist Cotton on in relief, Reida drilled a double down the first-base line, scoring Riddle and retaking the lead at 6-5. Cousino kept it going for the Wildcats, hitting Kentucky’s fourth double of the inning and scoring Reida to build the lead to 7-5.
LSU attempted a comeback in the top of the eighth as Katz got it started with a single to leftfield. Rhymes followed up with his fourth hit of the day, a single through the left side. Austin reached on an error, scoring Katz and leaving runners on first and second. After one unearned run, Phillips worked his way out of the inning with a 4-6-3 double play. Kentucky held onto a run-one lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.